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Graduate Student Unionizing Activity

National Labor Relations Board ruling

On August 23, 2016 the National Labor Relations Board released a ruling that defines student assistants working at private universities as statutory employees covered by the National Labor Relations Act of 1935.

History of NLRB ruling and effects

The concept of students being classified as employees under the National Labor Relations Act is not new. The status of students was first reviewed by the NLRB in 1972 (Adelphi University) and held that graduate students should be excluded from a bargaining unit because of the difference in interest with the faculty. In 2000, the NLRB ruled that certain graduate assistants were considered employees with the right to collectively bargain. The topic was reviewed again by the NLRB with a 2004 decision regarding Brown University. In the Brown decision, the NLRB ruled that graduate assistants cannot be considered employees because they are “primarily students and have a primarily educational, not economic, relationship with their university.”

The recent ruling in 2016 reverses the 2004 Brown decision stating that the 2004 Board erred in their interpretation of varying degrees of employment when the NLRA uses the term "any employee". The effect of this ruling now provides students all protections afforded to employees under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which includes the right to collective bargaining.

Resources available

Students are encouraged to consider whether collective bargaining is in their best interest. An FAQ is available and designated contacts for each school.